Back in school, my teachers used to say, “Always do the right thing, at the right place, at the right time.”
As a kid who was just being convinced to do homework, I didn’t think much of it.
Several years later, as an adult who wants to make the most of her days, I realize how insightful this saying is.
Being able to achieve that balance of doing the right thing at the right place and at the right time bears a lot more weight than many people consider. Since we’re constantly faced with a mountain of tasks and responsibilities, how productive we are and how well we use our time will determine the quality of our days and inevitably, of our lives.
Here are 31 time-wasters you should avoid and what to do instead:
01. Constant checking of emails
Did you know that on average, people check their emails 20 times a day?
Between back and forth emails and being copied to irrelevant conversations, it’s no wonder that checking emails is one of the worst time-wasters. Whether on your desktop or on your smartphone, there are multiple ways to make this process more efficient (and enjoyable!). Try scheduling a set number of times you’ll open your inbox per day or if possible, opt for a quick call instead.
02. Unnecessary meetings
Meetings that have no agenda, no timeframe, and no clear takeaway is a recipe for disaster. Not only are you wasting your time, but you’re also preventing others from getting things done as well.
Why not try what Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Virgin Group Founder Richard Branson are reportedly doing. Ditch the traditional sit-down version by conducting walking meetings instead. Make sure you also set boundaries in terms of scope and length of time.
03. No time boundaries
Parkinson’s Law states that “work expands so as to fill the time allotted for its completion.”
Remember procrastinating on a term paper due the following week but somehow being able to turn it in (and ace it!)? That’s because most times, we’re able to complete a task much faster than the time we’ve allocated to do it.
Instead, try setting a timer or implementing the Pomodoro technique wherein you break up your tasks into 25-minute blocks and take 5 minutes of rest after. If it takes you more than 25 minutes to get it done, evaluate your task and your process, then adjust for the next 25.
Recent studies show that multi-tasking, which was once thought of as the ultimate way to get things done, is actually counter-productive. Each time you switch from one high-level task to another, your brain takes up to 20 minutes to refocus and identify the necessary thought processes required for the new task. Multi-tasking makes you both inefficient and ineffective.
Instead, try batching and scheduling your tasks which means grouping similar tasks to be done in sequence or only if possible, at the same time.
It’s true that a certain amount of fear is healthy but not when it’s too much that you’re unable to take action on things that will lead you towards your goals. Just imagine how much faster or sooner you can achieve your dreams if your fear wasn’t holding you back.
While overcoming fear is a much deeper topic than I can explain in this article, it’s important to first recognize it so you can then understand it and come up with ways to deal with it.
Have you ever been at a restaurant and your friend takes forever to order? You’re already starving and the longer he/she decides, the louder your stomach growls. Now imagine indecisiveness in the personal or business sense. The longer you decide, the more time you waste by not taking action and not seeing results.
Instead, try quickly getting all the relevant data you can then go with the most beneficial one right now. If there’s more than one obvious choice, reflect on your goals or go with either option. Sometimes, fixing a wrong decision is still better than not making a decision at all.
07. Deciding on trivial tasks
Apart from time, one important but limited resource that many people take for granted is willpower. Research shows that willpower depletes as the day drags on which is why high performers like CEOs and athletes have strict daily routines, even to the point of wearing the same kind of clothes every day and eating the same food each meal. They avoid decision fatigue and wasting time by automating the trivial tasks so they’re free for high-value decisions.
Even if you’re ready to dive into deep work, not everyone or everything will be considerate enough to let you do so. Whether it’s a notification from your phone, a knock on your office door, or a call from a relative, the distractions are endless.
That’s why it’s best to set limitations for your workspace and work session. Turn off notifications, quit browsing tabs, close apps, and hang a “do not disturb” sign if you have to. Remember, it’s always up to you to guard your time and your work because no one else will.
09. Inability to say “no”
Similar to distractions, the inability to say “no” can cost you more than time if you’re not careful. Constantly saying “yes” to new unconsidered opportunities or to co-workers asking for favors will also eat up your energy and attention, both of which are limited resources that should be allocated towards your most important task right now. Instead, set boundaries and learn how to politely decline offers that aren’t related to your goals.
10. Lacking a system or action plan
Even if you’re clear on what you need to accomplish, if you don’t have a system or concrete plan of action, you could still be wasting valuable time on things that don’t move the needle.
Instead, try sitting down and mapping out all the steps you need to take in order to reach your goal then prioritize and schedule each of them in the correct sequence in your calendar. Make it a habit to plan your day the night before or set aside Sunday night to map out the following week. This way, you get to hit the ground running first thing in the morning or first thing on Monday.
Think of all the hours you spend looking for missing documents, supplies, or files. Whether it’s your home, workspace, desktop, or processes, a lack of organization is a sure-fire way to waste time (and lots of it!).
Instead, learn from chefs. Hours before the restaurant even opens, they’re at their workstation, cleaning, prepping, and preparing all the ingredients, tools, and equipment so that they can work efficiently and serve their customers better.
12. Using tools inefficiently
Using the previous example, any chef worth his salt won’t be caught dead with a dull knife or at a loss with how to operate certain kitchen equipment. Tools are there to help make you work faster and better but that’s no use to you if you don’t use them well.
Now, think of all the tools you use on a daily basis — your website platform, phone apps, even your to-do list. Are you using them effectively and to their full potential?
13. Doing something inefficiently
Sometimes, it isn’t about the tools you use. People who are the most successful are the ones who’ve become masters of their craft. They’ve honed their skills by constantly improving and tweaking their processes and habits. There’s always room for improvement so it’s best to schedule regular review periods, upgrade your key skills, and seek advice from mentors or coaches.
14. Doing everything yourself
Similar to #13, if something is not your particular area of expertise and improving on it isn’t the best use of your time, just automate or delegate it to someone else. It can be difficult especially for business owners to let go of control but imagine what you could accomplish when you devote yourself to doing other high-value tasks you’re passionate about and more skilled with.
Take note that you could also consider delegating or automating low-value tasks at home such as chores, errands, paying bills, repairs, etc.
15. Comparing yourself to others
We’ve all done this, right? Especially in the advent of social media, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking you’re not good enough because someone is seemingly more successful or more popular. Of course, competitive analysis for the purpose of bettering yourself or your business is a good strategy, but be careful not to cross that line.
Instead of wasting time being too self-critical, bitter, or envious, focus on yourself and commit to continuous improvement. Remember that another person’s success doesn’t automatically equate to your failure.
16. Trying to please everyone
Trying to please everyone at the expense of losing sight of your goals is a guaranteed way to waste your time, energy, and attention. Not only will you spread yourself too thin, but you might also reach a point that you resent others because what you’ve been doing didn’t give you any meaningful reward or benefit. Instead, focus on yourself and/or your ideal customers and narrow down your niche or target market.
17. Aiming for perfection
This one’s one of those things that is harder to do rather than to say. Whether you’re a business owner, graphic artist, or blogger, aiming for perfection is not only unrealistic but also a waste of time because it’s practically impossible. You’ll reach a point of unhealthy obsession which hinders you from growing and learning. Instead, focus on continuous improvement which enables you to act quickly and avoid stalling.
18. Touching things twice
Have you ever saved an invite without giving an answer? Or put off replying to someone’s text? The time it takes you to close a “task loop” is called the holding pattern and this is definitely a waste of time.
Instead of touching things twice, apply the 2-minute rule. If a task takes two minutes or less to complete, do it now instead of putting it off for a later time. Otherwise, eliminate it, automate it, or delegate it, and then move on.
19. False starts
Have you ever started on something but ten minutes in, you find yourself distracted or doing something else entirely? False starts are sneaky like that — they have a way of stealing your time right from under your nose.
Instead, before even getting started, make sure you’re clear on what you need to accomplish, your workspace/environment is prepped, you have all the necessary tools you need, and all manner of distractions are kept at bay. This way, you’re free to devote intense focus and attention towards starting and completing your task.
20. Repeating the same tasks
If you find yourself doing the same tasks over and over, you’re throwing time out the window. Instead, you need to standardize your processes — Create templates, master copies, or workflow outlines to eliminate unnecessary repeated work. Try using tools such as Asana, Trello, Basecamp, or other project management software.
21. Repeating the same mistake
Making mistakes is definitely part of life and business; however, repeating the same mistakes is quite often avoidable. Instead, try to be more aware of the tasks you fumble with and evaluate how you can learn from them. Seek advice from mentors or coaches who have experience in this particular area.
22. Continuing to do something that is no longer beneficial
This is related to #21 but in a more long-term sense. Sometimes when you’ve done something for so long, you’ve grown attached to it. And this attachment can hurt you in the long run especially if it no longer makes sense to keep doing it or spending time on it.
In terms of business, think of companies that closed down such as Blockbuster, Pan Am, and Borders. In terms of writing, good authors know that producing the best stories may mean “killing your darlings.” In terms of productivity, it’s important to regularly evaluate your systems and processes to match the current situation.
Instead, regularly review your performance in relation to your goals and the environment. If possible, get help from a mentor or a coach who can see things objectively. Change doesn’t have to be a bad thing as long as you can adapt and keep learning.
23. Constantly checking stats
Name a blogger, vlogger, or online business owner who isn’t guilty of this. Especially in the beginning, we’d constantly hit the refresh button just to see if in the last two minutes you got a new subscriber, customer, follower, member, viewer, comment, retweet, repin, and others.
Instead, don’t wait too long to learn that checking stats should be for strategic analysis and not to simply “feel good” about yourself or your business.
I believe rest and play are essential to life and business but as a new home-based entrepreneur, I’m all too familiar with the temptation to spend too much time watching TV, scrolling through social media, lounging around, playing games, and watching movies. Entrepreneurship equals freedom after all, right?
Well, it depends. Having no discipline, schedule, or boundaries especially when working from home is a guaranteed way to end up back in a 9-5 job. Instead, schedule your breaks (between tasks, during weekends, and regular vacations) and make sure you consider both the length and the quality of your downtime as well.
25. Poor health habits
Do you remember the last time you were sick? Having little to no energy to do absolutely anything (even if you wanted to) is definitely not a good state to be in. Now imagine if other people counted on you to be at your best, perform well, and do good work.
As long as you’re still able to do something about your situation, don’t wait before it’s too late to take care of your physical, mental, and emotional well-being by developing your keystone habits.
26. Neglecting Rest
Similar to #25, don’t wait until you’ve reached burnout or exhaustion before you get some rest. To keep performing at your optimum level, you need to schedule quality rest periods within the day, go on vacation leaves, and yes, even take weekends off to refresh your mind and body.
27. Inefficient Learning
When it comes to self-development or growing your business, continuous learning is absolutely necessary. But although you need to put in many hours to constantly learn new things, this doesn’t mean that you need to waste time doing so.
You can try learning on-the-go by listening to audiobooks or podcasts, mastering how to read faster and improve your memory, and bookmarking articles or courses for future study.
28. Implementing new systems
It’s important to note that trying new things or implementing new systems will take some time to get used to. There will always be a learning curve when it comes to creating a new website, trying out a new software, hiring new team members, testing new strategies, etc. However, this doesn’t have to be an excuse to waste time. Instead, plan and prepare for the transition by clarifying the goal of the new system, having a buffer or contingency plan, and setting reasonable deadlines or boundaries.
29. Holding on to the past
This one goes without saying: being stuck in the past prevents you from living in the present. Immersing yourself in unnecessary drama and complaining too much won’t get you where you want to go. Dwelling on the past is literally wasting time so as much as possible, acknowledge it, learn from it, and move on.
30. Lack of motivation
You may have all the right tools and all the latest strategies but sometimes, you just can’t help but procrastinate or put things off. Don’t worry because no matter how much of a high achiever you are, you’ll reach a point that your motivation will stagnate or decline. This happens to everyone, from athletes to CEOs, and authors to artists, so don’t be discouraged if it takes a while for you to be inspired to start taking action again. This is the perfect time to rely on your habits and systems (provided you’ve already established them) as you ride it out.
31. Not having a goal
Consider the following distinction between wasting time (being busy) and maximizing time (being productive).
Wasting Time (Being Busy)
Trying to do everything at once.
Saying “yes” to everyone.
Working on low-value tasks that don’t move the needle.
Maximizing Time (Being Productive)
Doing less but better.
Saying “no” to others so you can focus on what you need and want to do.
Choosing to focus on high-value tasks.
All three activities under the second column have something in common — Maximizing time (or being productive) means being intentional about it. This means having a purpose, a vision, and an intended outcome in mind with each action you take; therefore…
Instead of diving into productivity unprepared and unaware, make sure you establish a solid foundation by setting relevant and important goals first.
Remember that time is one of the most precious resources you have. Once certain hours, days, and years have passed, you can never, ever get those back. All successful people realize this, from CEOs to authors, entrepreneurs to athletes, parents to students. For this reason, it’s best to avoid time-wasters and instead, focus on high-value and relevant activities that move you closer towards your goals.